Posted by: Amelia | June 28, 2007

A Supreme Court Review, Reviewed

The American Constitution Society, my old employer, had its annual Supreme Court Term Review this morning at the National Press Club. Video will probably be on their website later today. It’s definitely worth watching if you, like me, are a non-lawyer interested in understanding these cases and their impact on American life and policy.

The panel was particularly helpful in clarifying how the recent partial birth abortion decision provides a clear path toward outlawing other forms of abortion. The majority opinion relied so heavily on a paternalistic “she might regret her decision later so we’ll make it for her” argument that almost ANY abortion procedure that might cause a pang of regret to some woman, somewhere, could be vulnerable. Likewise, the panel had a great analysis of the Ledbetter employment discrimination case, which they thought would probably prompt Congressional action relatively soon. These two rulings, which I wrote about earlier, ended up being the only two that prompted a probably livid Ruth Bader Ginsburg to take the symbolic step of reading her dissent aloud.

The 2006-2007 term has been grim indeed for progressives. Of the 68 rulings this year, 24 were decided by a margin of 5 to 4. Justice Anthony Kennedy was in the majority on every single one of those decisions (and with only one or two exceptions, he sided with the conservative bloc). Todays panelists agreed that, due to the likely pattern of retirements, the court can only become more conservative in the coming years and decades. Even now, the conservative justices are tying themselves in knots trying to justify decisions that break with past and recent precedent. As panelist Pam Karlan said, “If this is the birth of a new constitutional era, what an ugly baby.”

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